In June, I was captivated by the enthusiastic cyclists who rode post my house as a part of a Critical Mass ride. Last night, I went along for their August ride.
Since I've been thinking about flattened models of leadership, it seemed especially fun to watch and participate in a big group ride with no official leadership. I enjoyed watching riders gather in the park, as some began circling the fountain, and, eventually, more and more people starting yelling to get the ride going. Finally, we took off.
Being a part of a thousand cyclists riding together is a trip; when the big group decides to go on through red lights, for example, it just doesn't work to stop. It's certainly a rush to ride through San Diego in the dark, not stopping for anything (except the trolley, and, I noticed, folks were definitely ready to stop when we heard an ambulance siren).
The diversity of people (and bike styles) on the ride was pretty fun. There's a young, aggressive, testosterone-driven energy that is probably the most visible dynamic, but I wouldn't say it described even close to a majority of the riders. For every one biker yelling the kind of words people usually apologize for using in front of preachers, I heard three others saying "thanks" to cars that had stopped, or cyclists who were helping provide safety to others.
I treasure the image of riding through the underpass under the 5 freeway on Laurel Street, away from the Harbor, and seeing the vast swarm of red tail lights on the hundreds of bicycles ahead of me, climbing that steep hill.
You can check out the view of this month's ride here.
The ride has no official leaders, and most riders (well, I, at least) didn't know where we were going as we took off, or as we rode. Some people were clearly more involved in helping make the ride work, and they seemed to know a basic plan. All along the way, people participated in various ways, like by calling directions, wishes or warnings.
Sometimes, it felt powerless to not know what decisions were being made or who was really making them; at other times, it was darn cool and liberating to ride along in a community, trusting that the group wouldn't go too far astray, because we were doing it all together.
Today, though, I'm most keenly aware that it's been a long time since I have ridden my bike for 20 miles. And up, as I said, some hills.